Of the many things I am grateful for today, I am especially grateful that 57 years ago today these two crazy kids (aged 35 and 44, ahem) took a chance and said “I do”. Everything I know about love and loyalty and faith I learned from them, my beautiful and beloved parents. Miss them sooo much!
It’s been sometine since I posted this, and now seems like a good time to repost. I’m hurting from being rejected (again) by my birth mom (more on this later), and it helps to remember what my mom—my real mom—taught me, and to reaffirm the legacy she left me.
- She always told me that love is the only thing that really matters. You can lose your possessions, your job, and your health, but you can always hold on to the love. And in the final analysis, it’s the only thing that makes life worth living.
- Decorate your house with bookcases, because you can never have too many books! Nothing ever seems quite so bad if you can curl up with a good book and a cup of hot cocoa.
- Class is not determined by money or social position; rather, a truly classy person is one who goes out of her way to make others feel comfortable and special. Classy people are warm and gracious.
- You’ll never get old if you are always interested…
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I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers the fear.
My dad, who was one of those troops so many years ago, once told me that only fools are never afraid. Being afraid doesn’t make you a coward, he told me. Brave people learn to go ahead despite being terrified.
This applies to all of us, he made clear at the time, and now I can see what he meant…me dealing with trauma therapy, my friends and family who have faced cancer, my friend who was suddenly widowed when her husband died of influenza several years ago…countless painful and scary situations, that so many of us from somewhere, deep down inside, find the wherewithal to face and overcome. I think that we are, all of us, braver than we realize.
Courage is not simply having the strength to go on; it is going on when you don’t have the strength.
It’s Memorial Day here in the United States today, and the weekend wouldn’t seem complete if I didn’t post some kind of tribute to my dad, Sgt. Leonard Henry Resch. He fought from Omaha (“Bloody Omaha”) Beach in Normandy to Leipzig in Germany, seeing action in the Battle of the Bulge, liberating a concentration camp and oh, yes, helping liberate a continent along the way.
He never made a big deal about any of it, but he has always been my hero, he always will be, and darn it, I just wish I had told him more often while he was still here.
(PS English friends—he was stationed in Selsey before D-Day, if any of you know it? A small village on the southern coast.)
“There are so many fragile things, after all. People break so easily, and so do dreams and hearts.” –Neil Gaiman.
My parents have been dead a long time. Or not so long. It depends on my mood, how long it seems. My mom died in April 2007, my dad in January 1993. I often wonder what advice they would give me now, about being childless, being disabled and in chronic pain and often frustrated and depressed. Then, by chance, today I came across a quote that spells out what I know in my heart they would both say to me so perfectly, it gave me chills. In fact, I can hear my mom’s voice…
Everybody is a story. When I was a child, people sat around kitchen tables and told their stories. We don’t do that much anymore. Sitting around the table telling stories is not just a way of passing time. It is the way the wisdom gets passed along. The stuff that helps us to live a life worth remembering. Despite the awesome powers of technology many of us still do not live very well. We may need to listen to each other’s stories again.
–Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal
Most of my childhood and teenage Sundays were spent at my Grandma’s kitchen table. There was always the smell of coffee, and the kitchen was warm and cozy in the winter, the perfect refuge from the freezing Minnesota cold outside. Grandma always had plants in the window, like the African violets I could never make bloom at home, and from her second-story window we could see the nineteenth-century red-brick Grant House Hotel and Restaurant across the street.
Some Sundays, especially when I was little, the kitchen was full of aunts and uncles and rambunctious cousins (I am number 41 of 44), and I would divide my time between hanging out and listening to the adults and playing with my cousins. Other Sundays it would be just mom, dad, and me, all of us gathered around Grandma’s table, talking: me listening, drawing or playing with my dolls, and the grownups telling stories. As I grew older, I was allowed my own cup of coffee, and I interjected a question or two, but mostly I listened, fascinated.
Many of these stories involved memories formed during the bitter years of the Great Depression, when my parents were growing up, and the World War II years, when my dad was fighting Nazi Germany and my older uncles were in the service. But although the tales they told were set during harsh times, they were filled with love and warmth and laughter. I wish every child could have that gift, to grow up as part of a big, loving, crazy, storytelling family.
The stories I heard during those years formed me into the person I am today. The tales related by my aunts and uncles and grandmother and parents illustrated for me the values that have become their greatest legacy to me. Like the importance of being able to laugh at your problems. Of always being kinder than necessary. Of not judging, because everyone is carrying a burden you might know nothing about. Of making your own decisions, not just following the crowd. Of the importance of forgiveness and not holding grudges. At 49 years of age, I am still plumbing the depths of the stories I heard at my Grandma’s kitchen table.
As Remen notes:
The best stories have many meanings; their meaning changes as our capacity to understand and appreciate meaning grows. Revisiting such stories over the years, one wonders how one could not have seen their present meaning all along, all the time unaware of what meaning a future reading may hold. Like the stories themselves, all these meanings are true.
Knowing your own story requires having a personal response to life, an inner experience of life…Most of us live lives that are far richer and more meaningful than we appreciate.
Perhaps this Thanksgiving we could put down our iPhones for a few hours…and tell stories?
Edit: I accidentally posted and sent out an earlier draft. Here is the corrected version. Thanks for your patience!
The summer after my mom died ten year ago, I discovered a cache of letters, poems, and old photos I had never seen before, many of which dated back to her high school and college years. It was disconcerting, to say the least, to discover that my mother–my mother!–had once been as immature and silly as I remember myself being during those years. Well, almost. There were other surprises awaiting me as well.
I think I was somewhere in my twenties when I realized that my parents had actually been people before I came into their lives. Interesting, intelligent, fun people, growing and experiencing young adulthood just as I was at the time. My head almost exploded at the thought. “Well, of course,” my mom said mildly, barely looking up from her mystery novel when I shared my discovery with her. My dad just looked at me. “When I was your age, I was fighting a war, ” was all he said, while I stood there with my mouth hanging open and my world tilted on its axis a bit more. Ever since, I’ve been hungry to learn more about them, the young woman and man who became my parents.
My mother’s letters and poems have helped me understand how she dealt (actually, she didn’t really deal) with the sudden loss of her father in a farming accident when she was 20. Reading her prose makes me sad that she never followed up on her youthful ambition to be a writer, and makes me more determined than ever to somehow, someway, realize my dream of becoming one, chronic migraines be damned! Looking through her papers I am continually reminded that although I may not be her flesh and blood, I am so much like her I might just as well be…The passionate love poem she wrote to my dad shortly before their wedding, well, I just have to keep putting that one aside because I can’t wrap my mind around that one, nor am I entire certain I want to!
But most astounding and overwhelming letters that I found were the ones I had no inkling existed, the letters she wrote to God when she converted to the Catholic Church in her early twenties. My mom was a real Christian; she lived the Beatitudes and was warm, generous, joyful, and loving, forgiving, nonjudgmental and kindness itself. But these letters reveal a depth of love so overwhelming that it is shocking, in the the same way some of the more mystical writings of the saints are shocking. It’s a good reminder that not all saints are canonized, that even those we love most have hidden depths, and that, indeed, we are all called to holiness.
The little peanut in the photograph below from 1928 would be 89 years old today, and was lucky (?) enough to have been my mom. Mildred Elaine Baach (later Resch) was born to Fern and Edward Baach in Austin, MN on May 10, 1928; this is her tenth birthday since she’s been gone, and I have to admit that I still haven’t gotten to the point where the happy memories outweigh the pain of missing her. Maybe if she hadn’t been so wonderful–warm, generous, funny–or if we hadn’t been so close, it might be easier…or if I didn’t have the chronic illness and depression stuff to deal with all of the time…or if we had kids, and I could feel as though the cycle of life was continuing…but then again, maybe, most likely, none of that would make any difference at all.
I think part of the reason I am posting this is that if you are moving through grief I want you to know that there is no set time limit, no arbitrary rules that say, oh, by one year (or whatever) you need to be HERE emotionally and if you aren’t then you are maudlin and creepy and just wallowing in negativity. Or, ome people might say to you, hey, you should be happy, your loved one is in heaven with Jesus, so you shouldn’t be so sad. Baloney. Even Jesus cried when Lazarus died; you can be glad your loved one is partying up in heaven, but still miss them dreadfully and feel that you’d give anything for just one more hug. Grief is an incredibly complex, difficult state of being, affects every person differently, and no one has the right to criticize you for it. (The only caveat I’d add is that if if you feel your grief slipping into clinical depression, it’s a good idea to seek professional help.)
The reality is that you will grieve forever. you will not “get over” the loss of a loved one you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor should you want to.
For All Souls Day, some flatlay collages and family photos in loving and grateful remembrance of my beloved family and friends now home with God, especially my grandparents, my Uncle Al (who died in January), and my amazing, wonderful parents.
Eternal rest grant unto them, Oh Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace . Amen.